Making moves between industries tips for engineers
By Joe Lampinen
If you are an engineer who has gained all your work experience in one specific industry, you might believe you are going to be confined to that field for the rest of your career. Fortunately, that is not usually the case. Employers are primarily interested in the value you can bring to their company, regardless of where you worked in the past. In fact, sometimes companies prefer industry outsiders because they bring an outside perspective. That means it is entirely possible to make moves between industries—so long as you go about it the right way.
Many engineering skills are transferable between industries
All graduate engineers possess some of the same fundamental abilities (e.g., engineering problem solving process, analytical approach, project management, etc.). As a couple of examples, I personally know an engineer who has a degree in biomedical engineering and is working as a quality engineer in the aerospace industry, as well as an engineer who has a degree in aerospace engineering and is working as a process engineer in the oil refining industry.
While it is true that special skills particular to the context of the processes and products of an industry develop once an engineer begins working in that industry, those special skills are in addition to the fundamental skills engineers are equipped with as they graduate.
For example, let’s say you work in the automotive industry applying mechanical engineering formulae to evaluate and test the tensile strength of metal alloys in various forms and under various ambient conditions. This requires analytical and design skills, as well as knowledge of the properties of metal alloys. However, you could also apply these transferable skills in other industries, including home appliance design, building materials development, container manufacturing, and aerospace. What you won’t have when entering a new field are the tricks of the trade and rules of thumb. You’ll also lack knowledge of conventions within the industry, since the regulatory bodies are different. For example, the automotive industry is regulated by the Department of Transportation and the NHTSA, while the medical device industry is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and other organizations. To make your move to another industry successful, you should be nimble, curious, and willing to learn new things.
Highlighting your transferable skills
To make yourself attractive to employers in other industries, keep the following tips in mind:
- Make a skills inventory. List all the skills you use in your current job, such as analytical skills, advanced mathematics, project management, or knowledge of specific materials.
- Determine which other industries need those skills. It’s unlikely to always be the same combination, so choose sectors that have a demand for your strengths.
- Adapt your résumé and other professional materials. To avoid employers only associating you with your current industry, don’t list your actual job title. Instead, state something like, “Mechanical engineer performing analysis on metal alloy parts to determine durability.”
- Work with a recruiter who can facilitate your move to another industry. A recruiter with experience in engineering knows how to disassemble your work experience into skills and repackage them to match what employers are looking for.
If you’re a skilled engineer looking for more diverse work experience, you can make moves between industries. This will allow you to keep advancing your career while simultaneously bringing significant experience and knowledge to every project.